Human Trafficking in a Global Sense: Myths and the OHCHR Framework


Human trafficking is a prevalent problem around the world, and yet the education surrounding the topic is severely lacking. Many organizations like the United Nations Office of the High Commissioner and the United States Department of State have implemented measures to try and inform the public of the misconceptions surrounding human trafficking, as well as protocols to prosecute traffickers and aid victims of trafficking. However, without proper public education, it is unlikely any real change will occur.

In 2000, the U.S. Congress passed the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), which was the first comprehensive act aimed at combating the issue of human trafficking.[1] Prior to this enactment, the Department of Justice could only prosecute offenders under narrow involuntary servitude and slavery prohibitions under the Constitution.[2] The TVPA expanded the definition of human trafficking to go beyond involuntary servitude, and included provisions for coercion, debt bondage, and sexual slavery.[3]

However, despite these changes, human trafficking is more prevalent than ever.  The U.S. Department of State estimates that 14,500 to 17,500 individuals are trafficked in the U.S. each year, with an estimated 27.6 million victims being trafficked for sex and labor worldwide annually.[4]  From 2011 to 2020, there was an 84% increase in human trafficking prosecutions.[5] Despite this increase, there was still only a total of 1,343 individuals prosecuted for human trafficking offenses.[6]

Myths Surrounding Human Trafficking

One of the major factors in the prevalence of human trafficking in today’s world is the misinformation surrounding the topic. Many individuals believe human trafficking is a violent crime, where women and girls are picked up off the side of the street, thrown into a van and forced across borders for labor or sex.[7] While this may be the case in some instances, the majority of the time, trafficking does not follow this pattern.

Most cases of human trafficking are non-violent.[8] Instead, most individuals are trafficked by someone they are close with and are convinced to comply through coercion, manipulation or threats.[9] Most survivors’ traffickers are their romantic partners, including spouses, or family members, including parents.[10] Sometimes, the trafficked victim will have consented to the labor or sex initially and then later revoked their consent. However, this initial consent does not prevent the individual from being a victim of human trafficking.[11] These individuals often do not readily seek assistance due to shame, fear of retaliation by their trafficker, fear of not being believed, or a lack of understanding that their situation is human trafficking.[12]

Second, not all instances of human trafficking are sex-related, as the media often reports.[13] Experts actually believe that there are more instances of labor trafficking than sex trafficking worldwide, despite more awareness surrounding sex trafficking.[14] Sex trafficking occurs when perpetrators use coercion, force or fraud to compel an individual to engage in commercial sex acts.[15] However, if the individual is under the age of 18, the use of force, fraud or coercion is not necessary.[16] Forced labor includes exploitation of an individual’s labor or services in situations like domestic servitude, where the individual is required to provide services in a private residence, or in commercial settings, like agricultural fields, factories, mines, and other settings.[17] It is important to note that individuals can be trafficked in any sector or setting.[18]

Additionally, many believe that only women and girls can be victims of human trafficking.[19] While most experts believe that the majority of victims are female, some estimate that nearly half of all sex trafficking victims are male, with some advocates believing the number may be even higher, as male victims are less likely to be identified.[20] Men and boys in the LGBTQ+ community are at an even higher risk of being targeted for trafficking.[21] In addition to sexual orientation, race has an incredible impact on risk of being trafficked, as nearly 50% of all juvenile sex trafficking victims are black.[22] It is important to note, however, that anyone can be trafficked and stereotypes about the typical victim or perpetrator profile can be damaging and dangerous to the victims themselves.[23]

Finally, human trafficking is often confused with human smuggling.[24] Human smuggling requires illegal border crossings, and while it can be intertwined with human trafficking, it is not always the case.[25] To the contrary, human trafficking has no requirement of movement of people in any capacity.[26] Survivors are often recruited and trafficked in their own towns and homes.[27] These myths surrounding human trafficking often lead individuals to believe that this is a global problem in which they cannot help.[28] However, human trafficking has been reported in every state in the U.S., and reports from individuals in the community are vital to prosecuting traffickers.[29]

How the U.S. Department of State Handles Human Trafficking

Currently, the U.S. Department of State provides individuals with free information on their website regarding the types of human trafficking, who the victims are, who the perpetrators are, and the key principles and concepts of trafficking.[30] Additionally, the Department of Justice and Department of Human Services offer training materials, such as the “Understanding Human Trafficking” webinar series, and the Blue Campaign, which was designed to educate the public and law enforcement on how to identify signs of human trafficking.[31] These offices offer free print and digital posters and public awareness materials that can assist in educating the public about the signs of human trafficking.[32]

In addition to the current legislative scheme surrounding human trafficking, bipartisan legislation was introduced to the Senate in 2021 titled “Human Trafficking and Exploitation Prevention Training Act of 2021.”[33] This act would provide elementary and secondary schools with grants in order to train educators and students to recognize, prevent, and respond to the warning signs of human trafficking.[34] At the time of writing this article, the legislation has not yet passed.[35] However, the importance of this legislation has not been overlooked, as a 2018 study found that homeless students who were victims of trafficking are 72% more likely to drop out of school, and that graduating from high school is one of the potential protective factors that could decrease the risk of trafficking for homeless students.[36]

Finally, in 2023, President Biden reaffirmed January as National Human Trafficking Prevention Month.[37] In this statement, he outlined how his Administration released the National Action Plan to Combat Human Trafficking in order to prosecute perpetrators and protect victims.[38] While the U.S. seemingly is making strides towards mass education of human trafficking, as well as placing anti-trafficking initiatives into place in order to prosecute perpetrators, human trafficking remains a prevalent and ever-growing issue in American society.

What the OHCHR Proposes to Eradicate Human Trafficking

From an international standpoint, the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR) has a slightly different approach than the United States. The OHCHR focuses on three topics: capacity development, research and knowledge production, and partnerships.[39] Under capacity development, the United Nations (UN) helps member states to develop laws and policies that reflect international human rights standards in regard to human trafficking.[40] Currently, the UN is working with the International Civil Aviation Organization to help cabin crew identify victims of human trafficking. In addition, the UN provides capacity development projects, such as trainings for law enforcement and civil society organizations.[41]

In terms of research and knowledge production, the UN is committed to eliminating the existing gray areas that currently exist in international human trafficking policy frameworks, such as the varying areas covered by human trafficking and trafficking without the use of physical force.[42] Currently, the UN is involved in research projects including guidelines on trafficking with the intent of illegal organ harvesting, based on the 2013 Special Rapporteur on Trafficking in Persons.[43] Further, the UN is compiling definitions and concepts that bridge the gap between modern day slavery and human trafficking.[44]

Finally, the UN has partnered with several groups, such as the Inter-Agency Coordination Group against Trafficking in Persons (ICAT) in order to eradicate human trafficking.[45] The goal of ICAT is to engage in a comprehensive approach to preventing human trafficking at a global level.[46] The UN is also involved in the Alliance against Trafficking in Persons, which combines the interests of government and non-governmental institutions at an international level in order to combat the issue of human trafficking.[47

Despite these initiatives, the UN and other independent organizations recognize that more needs to be done in the human trafficking framework at an international level.[48] For instance, the informal coalition “Stop the Traffik” focuses on education of the realities of human trafficking, and aims to generate the political change necessary to eradicate it.[49] The organization recognizes that since its founding in 2006, one of the biggest challenges in the fight against trafficking is the lack of understanding and education on the topic.[50] However, in addition to lack of understanding, the coalition has discovered that there is a general disinterest in the issue.[51] Due to this, the organization focuses its resources on grassroots education, specifically targeting young people and local communities.[52] Stop the Traffik specifically recognizes that without an international understanding of the issue, and a combined effort on the part of governments, private companies, non-governmental organizations, and the local communities themselves, it is unlikely any real change will occur.[53] In contrast to the system the U.S. has implemented, the measures taken by the UN are significantly more effective in spreading awareness of human trafficking.[54] Despite this success, experts at the UN recognize more needs to be done in order to prevent human trafficking, and the issue is one that will always require all hands on deck.[55]


While human trafficking is likely to persist for many years to come, it seems there is a general agreement that education on the topic on an international level is necessary in order to limit the number of individuals who are trafficked on an annual basis. In a global sense, this means the UN continuing to partner with nation states and international organizations dedicated to the education on human trafficking. In addition, the UN will need to continue to fund and support grassroots campaigns that target individual communities in order to ensure the public maintains interest in eradicating human trafficking.

In terms of the domestic human trafficking issues in the United States, continuing to implement recommendations issued by the UN on how to combat the issue of human trafficking remains vital to the cause. Further, the United States needs to focus their efforts on the education of the public on the prevention and warning signs of human trafficking. Only through education and a combined international effort at ending human trafficking will any real change occur.


[1] Human Trafficking Key Legislation, U.S. Department of Justice, (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Human Trafficking Data Collection Activities, Bureau of Justice Statistics (Oct. 2022),

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Myths and Facts, National Human Trafficking Hotline, (last visited Oct. 12, 2023).

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Myths and Facts About Human Trafficking, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (Feb. 20, 2019),

[12] Id.

[13] National Human Trafficking Hotline, supra note 7.

[14] Id.

[15] Understanding Human Trafficking, U.S. Department of State, (Apr. 26, 2022),,or%20engage%20in%20commercial%20sex.

[16] Id.

[17] Id.

[18] Id.

[19] National Human Trafficking Hotline, supra note 7.

[20] Id.

[21] Id.

[22] Edward Graham, How Schools and Educators Can Combat Human Trafficking, neaToday, (June 7, 2022),

[23] Id.

[24] National Human Trafficking Hotline, supra note 7.

[25] Id.

[26] Id.

[27] Id.

[28] Myths and Facts About Human Trafficking, supra note 11.

[29] Id.

[30] About Human Trafficking, U.S. Department of State, (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[31] Public Awareness & Training, U.S. Department of State, (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[32] Id.

[33] Edward Graham, supra note 18.

[34] Id.

[35] Id.

[36] Id.

[37] Human Trafficking Prevention, U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[38] Press Release, The White House, A Proclamation on National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, 2023, (Dec. 30, 2022),

[39] What we do to end human trafficking, UN OHCHR, (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[40] Id.

[41] Id.

[42] Id.

[43] Id.

[44] Id.

[45] Id.

[46] Id.

[47] Id.

[48] Ruth Dearnley, Prevention, Prosecution and Protection – Human Trafficking, UN Chronicle,,cocoa%20plantations%20in%20West%20Africa (last visited Oct. 13, 2023).

[49] Id.

[50] Id.

[51] Id.

[52] Id.

[53] Id.

[54] Heather Komenda, Despite Progress, More Needs to Be Done to Address the Crime of Trafficking in Persons, UN Chronicle (July 24, 2023),

[55] Id.